Pets and Natural Disasters
The weatherman on the news says the hurricane is intensifying, the governor has ordered an evacuation, and the winds are picking up outside. Your home is right on the projected path. As you throw belongings into your bag and head to your car, your faithful furry companion jumps into the usual co-pilot position. Did you pack a bag for your pet? Will the emergency center allow pets? They have to, right?
Natural disasters and other situations that require evacuations are often filled with confusion and many pets are lost, injured, or worse. But there are some steps you can take that can help keep the family together and survive.
Before the Storm
Well before the storms are ever on a radar, get your pet microchipped and have ID tags on their collars. These simple steps will help lost pets get back to their owners.
Before storms hit, compile a list of hotels, boarding kennels, motels, or friends and family that could serve as emergency housing places for your pet. Call hotels that you may be interested in and see if their no-pet policy can be waived in certain circumstances. They may still have restrictions like number of pets or size, so make sure to ask about those, too. When creating your list, get some places that are in town and some places that are out of town, so you have lots of backups. Local animal shelters may be able to provide some help, but they will likely be too overwhelmed with other lost pets to provide housing during the disaster. And no, most emergency shelters do not allow pets due to safety and sanitation concerns. However, some do, and you can call your local emergency management office to see if a pet-friendly shelter will be established.
Keep an evacuation kit ready during storm season. This kit should contain up to seven days of food and water, bowls for food and water, cat litter and litterbox, blankets, towels, paper towels, garbage bags, ID tags and medical records, disinfectant like bleach, flashlight with extra batteries, muzzle, and a favorite toy or item. Pack enough medicine for two weeks, just in case, and keep a stocked first-aid kit inside your emergency evacuation kit. For the items that may have expiration dates, like medicine and food, rotate them out so the items are fresh if you need to leave suddenly. Each pet is different so take into consideration the needs of your pet when creating your evacuation kit.
Dealing with Disaster
Decision time. Do you stay or do you go? If you go, take your pet with you. Remember that list you compiled of places to take your pet in an emergency? Now is the time to get it out and make a reservation, if you haven’t already. If you decide to stay, bring all your pets inside the house (obviously large animals like horses are not included in this). Try to set up a safe room where you have all the stuff you need for your pets. Close off all nooks and crannies where pets might hide or escape and secure anything dangerous like cleaning chemicals and sharp tools. Stay hidden with your pets until you are sure all the danger has passed.
If you are returning home from evacuation, look around your house. Objects, scents, and paths may be different and may confuse animals. Because of this, avoid letting your pets out as soon as you get home. Pick up any sharp objects and debris. Watch out for downed power lines and wildlife. Release your animals in a small, enclosed area that you have inspected. Put them with some food and water and let them sleep. Evacuation is stressful and even your pet will need to rest when they get home. It may take some time for your pet to feel comfortable in the home again. Provide lots of cuddle time and watch for any signs of injury or illness. Eventually your pet will be comfortable once more.
Did you and your friend get separated during the chaos? Check for lost pets in local shelters in person daily, talk to local law enforcement and emergency officials. Monitor social media for lost and found pets in the area. Don’t underestimate the power of the classic missing pet poster. Make them water-proof so they last longer. If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip agency that the pet is missing. If the pet turns up at a shelter or clinic, it can be quickly returned.
With some planning and preparation, you and your pets can manage an evacuation, no matter if the evacuation is for a hurricane or a toxic chemical spill. Get your evacuation kit ready and when the time comes you will be able to handle it. By being prepared, you can keep your whole family together and as safe as you can be.